The Italians are well represented on the vintage market. Since the fashion world picked up their work, designers Ignazio Gardella, Gaetano Pesce and Giancarlo Piretti have become collectors’ items.
1 | Gaetano Pesce
Over the past sixty years, Gaetano Pesce (1939) has made a name for himself as a designer, architect, urban planner and artist. If his work wasn’t so colorful, we’d call the Italian an eminence pig, given his track record. Along with Andrea Branzi, he is one of the last survivors of a golden generation in Italy. You can immediately recognize his most radical work in the spontaneous, handmade impression and in his signature material: colored resin. For the spring-summer 2023 parade at Bottega Veneta, for example, he designed a one-off floor and four hundred colorful chairs, made of canvas dipped in resin. Pesce, who lives in New York, prefers experimentation, innovation and synthetic materials to classic forms in wood or metal.
‘Pesce remains relevant. He had a solo exhibition at the Salon 94 gallery in New York, retrospective exhibitions in Shenzhen and Genoa, soon there is an exhibition in Design Basel, and recently there was a fashion show in Bottega Veneta. That, in combination with the fact that postmodernism is gradually penetrating the interior, makes it collectable,’ says Boris Devis, founder of the design gallery Goldwood by Boris.
Did you find recently?
A few of the chairs he designed for Bottega Veneta’s spring-summer 2023 show can be found in the Bottega Veneta showroom and store in Milan. But at Design Miami (November 30 to December 4), those chairs will be shown and sold again. “It’s a political statement. An ode to the importance of diversity. F*ck people who say we’re all the same. We’re all different, not a copy. That’s our quality,” Pesce said after the show.
The Belgian connection?
Matthieu Blazy, the designer of Bottega, lives in Antwerp and has pieces by Pesce in his apartment; so it’s not surprising that he ended up with Pesce. During the parade, Pesce sat next to Pieter Mulier, Blazy’s life partner and creative director at Alaïa. And there are still Belgian connections. In the early 1990s, Pesce designed Ernest Mourmans’ gallery on Zeedijk in Knokke. Unforgettable were the paper mache kitchen and the colored resin stairs. And in the same period there was the children’s shop Dujardin, also in Knokke. For years, the brightly colored facade was disgraced. Both buildings were later demolished. But, nice to know: the Parisian gallery Downtown/Laffanour sells several wardrobes and fittings from that store. And Millon recently auctioned off a chair.
Most famous pieces?
Pesce condemns machine series production and mainly makes objects in small editions. Still, he has some well-known designs with the big brands. The most famous is undoubtedly the voluptuous ‘UP’ armchair at B&B Italia.
Pesce’s unique works are distributed through galleries. You can score vintage copies at auctions and through dealers. In places à la Pamono, the asking price for a piece of resin furniture starts around 1,500 euros. Carlo Bonte and Christie’s both auctioned a ‘Square’ floor lamp from 1986 for around six thousand euros at the end of last year. Bonte had estimated him at just under 800 to 1,200 euros.
2 | Ignazio Gardalla
As a descendant of a family of architects, Ignazio Gardella’s (1905-1999) career path was well paved. In sixty years he designed the most diverse projects: from houses to company canteens and in very different styles: from rationalism to postmodernism. Gardella has also been designing furniture, lighting and objects for decades, which more and more collectors are coveting.
Did you find recently?
This year, Molteni is releasing the ‘Blevio’ table, a design by Gardella from 1930 for his own home on Lake Como. The play is being produced for the first time in collaboration with the Archivio Gardella in Milan, directed by his grandson. Molteni replaces the original copper coating with a metallic lacquer. And they produce a version in breccia capraia marble. We have recently seen vintage pieces by Gardella at the design event Nomad in St. Moritz, at Dimore Studio in Milan and at Morentz in Waalwijk.
You will mainly find lamps on the vintage market. But he also designed furniture, such as wall shelves and tables. Wanted ‘Digamma’ armchairs and seats designed by Gardella for the Gavina brand in the fifties. Recognizable by their duck feet, they are now in production at Santa & Cole. For a while, Kartell produced a plastic dining table and bed ‘Model 4550’, sought after by space age collectors. ‘Gardella stands for craftsmanship, craftsmanship, but always with a clear architectural approach. His work is loved for its rarity and straight-forward workmanship,’ says Bruges design dealer Dries Vanlandschoote.
Shortly after World War II, Gardella and two architect friends founded Azucena, an influential brand under which they produced their own designs. In 2018, B&B Italia bought the brand along with designs from one of the three founders. The designs of the other two founders, including Gardella, ended up with Tato: a small Italian brand that now markets his lamps and furniture.
Where can it be bought?
Molteni’s ‘Blevio’ table is now for sale (price from 8,375 euros). Tato has a webshop that delivers for free in Belgium (tatoitalia.com). Prices between NOK 779 for a lamp and EUR 11,150 for a sofa. Gardella also appears regularly on vintage portal sites such as Pamono and 1stDibs and on design auctions by Piasa. Prices vary widely. But you can easily pay €15,000 for a ‘Digamma’ armchair, while a pair of ‘LP12’ wall lamps, published by Azucena, cost around €6,400 at Vanlandschoote.
3 | Giancarlo Piretti
The designer Giancarlo Piretti (1940) was active until the 1990s. Between 1960 and 1972 he was chief designer at Anonima Castelli, an old Italian furniture brand founded in 1877, which he put on the international map with his successful designs. When Anonima Castelli went bankrupt in 2014, it was bought by the Pavan family, who have reproduced some of the most iconic designs since 2019, including the brand’s ‘Plia’ cash cow. Although they have also made other Piretti icons since the relaunch. Including the transparent shell chair ‘Plona’ and the beautiful organic armchair ‘Alky’.
Why do you need to know him?
The Plexiglas folding chair ‘Plia’, Piretti’s iconic design from 1957, is once again ubiquitous. Thanks to the fashion world: he appeared in the summer campaigns of Saint Laurent and APC. In June, the super hip Supreme launched another ‘Plia’ version with its logo on the steel frame.
What are others saying about it?
London design dealer Jenna Fletcher calls ‘Plia’ for the chairs ‘Céline Trio’ handbag: a very slim, smart and precise design. And yet sexy.’ According to Edoardo Pavan, the current producer, the genius of ‘Plia’ lies in its transparency. “It almost disappears when folded, because the chair is completely transparent and only five centimeters thick. For the first time, transparency was pushed through in this way. A revolution that can be compared to the first iMac or Air Max sneakers.’
What is the secret behind this piece?
The ‘Plia’ chair seems to epitomize the one-one generation: it is simple and elegant. A thoroughly industrial design (can be produced quickly and cheaply) and yet full of poetry. Piretti spent three years working on the design, which became an instant hit. Since its launch, it has sold more than four million copies. The chair is part of the MoMA collection and even has its own Wikipedia page.
The trendy 1stDibs – an online store that brings together more than two thousand vintage dealers – registered 125 percent more searches for ‘Plia’ and ‘Piretti’ this year. The average price of a ‘Plia’ chair increased by more than eighty percent.
Where can it be bought?
The new copies of Anonima Castelli cost 285 euros. For a vintage copy, you pay an average of one hundred euros. You can find them more easily on marktplaats.nl than on 2dehands.be. No coincidence, for the Dutch design brand Artifort distributed Castelli furniture in the Benelux for 25 years. In Belgium, the chair never really caught on, so there are fewer vintage examples in circulation. As for us: time for a (re)discovery.